Review: Yakuza 5 (PS3)

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Title: Yakuza 5
Format: Blu-ray Disc (Japan only) / PlayStation Network Download (23 GB)
Release Date: December 6, 2012 (Japan) / December 8, 2015 (US)
Publisher: Sega of America
Developer: Sega
Original MSRP: $39.99
ESRB Rating: M
Yakuza 5 is exclusive to PlayStation 3.
The PlayStation 3 download version was used for this review.
A copy of this game was purchased by the reviewer.
PS Nation Review Policy

Finally, after three years of waiting Yakuza 5 has reached western shores. This massive game has you play five different characters over five different cities in Japan and is packed to the gills with story, sub-quests, minigames, and tons of other content that’s brand new for the series.

Gameplay:
Just to give a synopsis of the series for those of you who have never played a Yakuza game, they’re mainly brawlers with a deep story, but they also have heavy Action RPG components to them. The core gameplay of each Yakuza game is similar to a sandbox game like Grand Theft Auto, but unlike that series, you’re not free to just roam everywhere or attack anyone at will. The game is usually centered around one or more cities in Japan and you generally have free reign up to a point.

To progress the main storyline, you can pull up the main map and you will see a pink circular indicator that shows you where you need to go for the next event in the story. You can usually avoid progressing the story and roam around the city at will to do sub-quests and minigames. As you roam the city, there are random thugs that will approach you and engage you in battle. This is where the main RPG portion of the game takes over.

The battle system is entirely separate from the main gameplay. In the main gameplay, you can’t just attack anyone or take out your weapons and beat on random people like in other sandbox games. When you enter a battle you’ll be accosted by one person, but once the battle begins his friends will come out of the crowd and fight you with a four or five-on-one battle.

Yakuza 5 Kiryu Gameplay Screen Shot 12:21:15, 1.56 PM
The battle system has a pretty creative way of handling the arena-style brawling game mechanic. Even though it’s an arena-based battle system, the game tries to hide the boundaries of the battle arena with random people that are walking around the city.

As you walk through the city there are many people milling around. Once you’re accosted by a thug, they’ll run in terror to the perimeter of the battle area where they become spectators to the battle and cheer you on.

The battles themselves are extremely entertaining and action-packed. You can use objects laying around the area as weapons along with any weapons you have in your inventory. The objects can be bicycles, motor scooters, telephone books, traffic cones, bowling balls, and much more.

… incorporate both the environment and different weapons …
After the battle, you will be rewarded with experience points and sometimes money or objects. The experience you gain will go towards your level, and each level will earn you a number of tokens that you can spend to upgrade your character’s skills, heat (special attack power), maximum health, and finishing moves.

The best thing about the battle system in the Yakuza games is how the environment is incorporated into each battle. Your heat gauge, once filled, allows you to perform special attacks which will use the environment to damage your enemies.

For example, if your heat is fully charged up, and you’re standing by an enemy and the side of a building, you’ll see the triangle indicator near the top of the screen. If you push the Triangle button at just the right time, you will grab your enemy and slam his head into the wall. There are dozens of these heat moves that incorporate both the environment and different weapons to show brutal attack sequences that are shocking and sometimes hilarious.

Yakuza 5 Kiryu Gameplay Screen Shot 12:21:15, 1.48 PM

As far as the changes go, there is an extreme amount of new things that this game brings to the table for the series, and way too many to speak about within this review. However, I will attempt to go over most of the major differences between this game and the previous titles on the PS3.

Yakuza 5 is definitely the most improved and largest Yakuza game on the PS3, if not the largest Yakuza game to date. The battle system has been very streamlined and the transitions between the main city exploration gameplay and the battle system are almost non-existent.

… up to five additional enemies …
In previous games, when you’d bump into a thug/enemy you would have a hard transition into the battle. Now, when you run into an enemy it uses an in-engine cutscene to gracefully transition you straight into the fight.

Some battles also have the opening cinematic of the thug running into you, accusing you of bumping him or just itching for a fight, while others just go right into the action. Fights in Yakuza 5 now allow enemies to flee the battle and they’re also able to call more friends to help them fight. This can add up to five additional enemies before the battle ends.

Yakuza 5 Kiryu Gameplay Screen Shot 12:21:15, 1.43 PM

While Yakuza 5 does hide the certain RPG portions of the gameplay, such as allowing you to set the upgrade path to automatic, it has added a whole leveling system for individual weapons. So, if you want to use some of the more powerful weapons you will need to use lesser forms of them and level up your weapon abilities before you’re allowed to equip the higher, more powerful versions.

Also, as mentioned before, since you play five main characters each has their own weapon ability, so you will need to upgrade each individual’s abilities separately. If you want to use weapons like the Lightsabers or Dragon spears, you will need to defeat a lot of guys and repair a lot of weapons to upgrade your abilities, which can be a costly endeavor.

Along with the new weapon ability leveling system, Yakuza 5 doesn’t make you gather too many materials to create the various weapons as it did previously in the series. Kamiyama, the weapons dealer, is back with his weapon upgrade shops but now you’ll need to invest cash and items to upgrade his inventory. The shop upgrade, along with finding maybe a dozen materials, will allow you to get to the more powerful weapons in the game.

… the ability to customize your darts …
One of the main attractions of the Yakuza series, the minigames, have been both enhanced and expanded. Many of the staples like bowling, darts, pool, ping-pong, and others make a return but now they’ve added air hockey, river fishing, snowball battles, ramen shop management (kind of like those Burger Shop mobile games), Virtua Fighter 2, Taiko Drum Master, and many others.

Some of the new enhancements include little side stories that go along with certain minigames. While they’re not real sub-quests that count towards your completion, these minigame stories kind of add another dimension to these games.

For example, if you play Darts, Bowling, Pool, or Mahjong often enough you’ll meet NPC characters that will either enhance the game or challenge you to a more difficult version of it. One of the huge upgrades to the Darts minigame includes the ability to customize your darts.

Yakuza 5 Kiryu Gameplay Screen Shot 12:21:15, 1.45 PM

When you go to play Darts, you’ll see an NPC standing there that will challenge you to a game. If you beat her, she will give you her darts and you’ll be allowed to mix and match the flights, the body, and the tips of the darts. Different combinations will increase their accuracy and other stats. You’re allowed to save five custom dart configurations that can be freely swapped during a match.

Another example of the expanded minigame that I had a lot of fun playing is Riichi Mahjong. I play Taiwanese and Chinese Mahjong in real life and I’ve played a lot of Riichi Mahjong in both the Yakuza games and other imported games from Japan. I always get sucked into playing lots of Mahjong when I play new installments of Yakuza.

… play high-stakes Mahjong …
In Yakuza 5, if you play enough Mahjong you’ll be walking around town and certain people will interrupt you and ask you if you remember them from the Mahjong parlor. Then they’ll tell you that they’re a person short and they’ll ask you to play with them. If you do play with them, you’re taken straight to the parlor and into an extra hard version of the game. I’ve managed to find three of these Mahjong players in town so far.

In addition to the extra hard Mahjong, if you play enough and win enough you’ll eventually meet a lady who will invite you to play high-stakes Mahjong. This is brand new to the series (as far as I’m aware), and it allows you to wager one-hundred thousand Yen to potentially win four-hundred thousand Yen.

Yakuza 5 Riichi Mahjong Gameplay Screen Shot 12:21:15, 8.45 PM 1Yakuza 5 Kiryu Fishing Gameplay Screen Shot 12:21:15, 8.49 PM

There are many more nuances and additions in this game that are just too numerous to go into, so at this point I’ll go into the major additions to Yakuza 5, which are the five character sub-stories. Each character not only has their own story, but they also each have their own set of missions that offer a whole new type of gameplay for the series, save for one of the characters.

You start off the game as Kiryu Kazuma who, with the exception of Yakuza 4 and Yakuza: Dead Souls, is the main character you play in each Yakuza game. Yakuza 4 was the first in the series to allow you to play as other characters, each with their own unique fighting style, but Yakuza 5 adds a whole new element to the character gameplay.

… avoid hitting pedestrians …
For Kazuma’s story, he has moved to another city and is doing work as a Taxi driver. The main new gameplay elements added for his story are the Taxi Missions and Taxi Racing Missions. Throughout the game you’re able to go to the Taxi Station and accept optional Taxi Missions and races. The missions have two different varieties: you’ll either have to take someone to their destination or you will have to engage a person in conversation.

During the Taxi Missions, you will have to stay on route, use the appropriate turn signals, stop at stop signs, avoid hitting pedestrians and other hazards, as well as engage the customer in conversations. Doing each of the aforementioned steps perfectly during a Taxi Mission will give you a number of points that can be used to gain experience.

Yakuza 5 Screen Shot 12:21:15, 2.06 PMYakuza 5 Screen Shot 12:21:15, 2.07 PM

In addition to Taxi Missions, there are also Taxi Racing missions. In these you will need to race a single opponent and beat them on up to three different courses. As you gain experience and level up your taxi ability, you’ll unlock new customizations that will make it easier to drive and win. The Taxi missions are extremely fun and challenging and the only gripe I had was that there weren’t more of them.

The next character you’re able to play is Saejima Taiga, from Yakuza 4. In his story, he is going back to prison to serve his time so he can come out free and take his place as one of the leaders in the Tojo Clan. Certain events happen and he finds himself in a small hunting village up in the mountains. Saejima’s new enhanced story mission mode is the wild game hunting mode.

… you can make insane amounts of money …
In the hunting mode, you will have a number of missions where you’ll need to go out into the woods and get certain game, rescue people, and other types of events. The hunting gameplay is another very fun mode where you can go out and hunt deer, fox, marmots, rabbits, and bears.

You can trap the smaller animals with different traps and shoot bigger game like deer and bears. Once you kill the animals you can take their meat and hides back to sell or save it to sustain yourself when you’re up on the mountain. The hunting gameplay is extremely fun and you can make insane amounts of money by selling animal meat and hides.

Yakuza 5 Saejima Hunting Gameplay Screen Shot 12:24:15, 11.16 AM

The third and fourth characters, Sawamura Haruka and Akiyama Shun, sort of share a story. Haruka is kind of a step-daughter to Kazuma and is one of the orphans that lives at the Sunflower Orphanage that Kazuma runs in Okinawa. Akiyama is a rich moneylender at Sky Finance that was introduced in Yakuza 4 and was also playable in Yakuza: Dead Souls.

Haruka’s story starts out the third chapter of the game and introduces the next main type of gameplay that was added to Yakuza 5: Rhythm/Dance. Haruka has grown into her teens and was spotted by a talent agency called Dyna Chair. The president of Dyna Chair thinks Haruka could make it as a famous Pop Idol so she has left the orphanage to live in Osaka, where she is training to be an idol.

… dance battles around town …
The idol missions are probably some of the most varied in the entire game. As Haruka, you can do dance/rhythm battles where you compete against an NPC character, dance/rhythm concerts, handshaking events – a kind of a meet and greet minigame event where you shake your fan’s hands and speak to them, magazine interviews, game shows, and many more.

Haruka does not get to fight random thugs but she is able to participate in dance battles around town. These battles are not random so you must find specific NPCs and speak to them to engage them in a dance battle. The NPCs vary in difficulty and will give you different amounts of experience to level up your abilities.

Yakuza 5 Haruka Gameplay Screen Shot 1:13:16, 8.23 PM

Akiyama doesn’t really have his own special gameplay like the others but he does have his own set of side-quests and other events. You’re also able to freely switch between Akiyama and Haruka at certain points in the game and Akiyama is able to engage in fights.

The last character that you play is Shinada Tatsuo, a washed-up professional baseball player who is now a writer for an adult entertainment magazine. He’s extremely poor financially and is by far the toughest character to play in the game.

… enabling you to get a home run …
His special gameplay is Baseball Missions where you try to beat out other characters by hitting home runs. The baseball mechanics for Shinada are quite different than the baseball minigame that you normally play in the batting cages. You use the four face buttons to hit the ball in the north, south, east and west quadrants of the strike zone.

As the ball is thrown it will curve close to one of the quadrants and from there you will have a split-second yellow flash where you must hit the correct button to strike the ball. The quadrants are tear-drop shaped areas that form kind of a clover-leaf pattern.

Yakuza 5 Shinada Gameplay Screen Shot 1:30:16, 4.35 PM

They’re further subdivided into smaller quadrants and if you hit the ball in those, it’ll be hit with greater force, enabling you to get a home run. This is signified by the ball hitting one of several metal targets in the batting center.

Other than the brand new gameplay sections for each character, the male characters all have their own unique fighting style. Kazuma is the most powerful and easiest to use. He pretty much has the most choices in fighting style and has the most heat moves.

… pretty wimpy compared to the other characters …
Saejima is more of a tank-like character. He’s slow but he’s immensely strong. He has some pretty powerful charge moves where he becomes impervious to attacks while he’s charging his attack. Saejima also has some brand new heat moves where he can rip large electrical boxes and street signs out of the ground to use as a devastating weapon.

Akiyama is a very fast and agile fighter who primarily uses his feet and legs to fight. The gameplay for Akiyama hasn’t switched much since Yakuza 4, so if you liked to play as Akiyama you get more in Yakuza 5.

Yakuza 5 Screen Shot 12:21:15, 2.01 PMYakuza 5 Shinada Gameplay Screen Shot 1:30:16, 9.06 PM

Shinada is by far the most frustrating to play and fight with, at least in my opinion. I guess it makes sense to not make him that good as a fighter since he’s really not a Yakuza. He does have some street smarts, but he is pretty wimpy compared to the other characters.

Since he’s dirt poor, it is extremely important to conserve your health regenerating items and save often. Shinada will get knocked down easily and the NPCs really are ruthless to him, beating him profusely while he’s on the ground.

… far too much for me to go into …
When Shinada gets up after being knocked down, he almost always has his back turned towards the enemy, making him vulnerable to being knocked down a subsequent time. To add even more difficulty to his gameplay, there aren’t any gambling places to make fast money in Shinada’s town. You will have to rely on fighting and/or fishing to increase your funds.

In addition to the baseball missions in Shinada’s story, you can also race and breed chickens. I haven’t gotten a lot of time to play this part, but it looks similar to the turtle races that were in Yakuza Kenzan!, which unfortunately never made it to the West.

Yakuza 5 Shinada Gameplay Screen Shot 1:30:16, 9.10 PM

I’ve probably gone too long in describing this game, but there’s just so much new content that I can’t cover it all. There is far too much for me to go into without having a ten-thousand plus word review, but I think I’ve at least been able to cover the major differences from the previous titles.

Each character has fifteen or so optional side-quests in addition to their side-missions (i.e., Taxi missions, Idol missions, Baseball missions). Each character also has a “Master” in each town, similar to the fighting training you receive in Yakuza 3 and Yakuza 4 on one of the rooftops with Saigo, or in the dojo that’s located above the gambling center in Kamurocho.

… everything has been upgraded and streamlined …
Overall, Yakuza 5 is just a fantastic game with lots of varying gameplay. If you find that you aren’t enjoying a part of the game, all you need to do is keep playing and there will be a completely different section ahead that you might enjoy more.

I’m simply floored by the immense number of little details that have been placed throughout the game. I think it’s almost impossible to experience every one of them.

Yakuza 5 Akiyama Gameplay Screen Shot 1:14:16, 11.25 PM

Visuals:
Yakuza 5 is the best looking Yakuza game on the PS3, at least that’s come West. Almost everything has been upgraded and streamlined. The crowds of NPCs that walk around the cities have been upgraded and now have more detail to their faces and the game engine has been upgraded to add many more textures. The game is simply gorgeous and pretty much runs at a constant locked frame rate.

The only time I really had any issue with the visuals was in Shinada’s chapter. There seemed to be quite a bit more pop-in than I experienced in the rest of the game. I can’t say for one hundred percent certainty, but Shinada’s town was the only one that I noticed the draw distance was very small, to the point where I’d take some steps and people would appear out of nowhere.

… the game is just wonderfully detailed …
There entire game up until Shinada’s story had people who would generate, walk a path, and finally walk into a building beyond the boundary of the city where you cannot go. This makes the game feel very organic, with the exception of the Shinada’s city.

Overall though, the game is just wonderfully detailed and the graphics are a definite improvement over Yakuza 4 and Yakuza: Dead Souls. Each city is very well done and has it’s own look and feel and each is modeled after a real city in Japan incorporating many famous landmarks.

An NPC from Yakuza 4

An NPC from Yakuza 4

NPC from Yakuza 5—the facial detail is much improved.

NPC from Yakuza 5—the facial detail is much improved.

Audio:
The audio of the game is pretty much on par with the other Yakuza titles, which is to say that it’s very good. The game features only the Japanese language tracks with English subtitles.

The use of surround sound and the quality of the sound effects are top notch and much of the music is just great. Just walking around in the game gives you the sense of really being in the various cities in Japan.

… There are no leaderboards …
Online/Multiplayer:
Yakuza 5 does have both local and online multiplayer. For local multiplayer, you have the option to play Taiko Drum Master, Virtua Fighter 2, Pool, Darts, and Bowling by going into a Special Content menu that’s accessed from the main menu from the title screen. For Online Multiplayer, you’re able to play Virtua Fighter 2, but it’s not very robust and doesn’t work very well.

While I was not able to play the local multiplayer, I was able to play a few rounds of the Virtua Fighter 2 online mode with a friend. There are no leaderboards or anything, so you’re only able to play Virtua Fighter 2 round by round.

Yakuza 5 Screen Shot 12:21:15, 2.58 PM 2Yakuza 5 Screen Shot 12:21:15, 2.59 PM 2

The game does track how many rounds you’ve played and won, but you don’t earn any Trophies. I also used my Hori Real Arcade Pro 4 Kai fight stick to play Virtua Fighter 2 Online and it seemed to make it easier to control than playing with the DualShock 3.

The performance of the online play wasn’t that great since the response time did not seem to be calibrated well for online play. Essentially the response time and input lag were really tough to deal with.

… kind of a fun add-on …
Also, you pretty much have to have a friend that wants to play since after leaving the player search screen on for several minutes, I was not able to play any random people. I did also have one dropped game which was pretty disappointing since there’s nobody else playing the online play.

Overall, the multiplayer both online and offline is kind of a fun add-on (particularly the former). It would be nice to have a second person to play these mini-games offline, since they’re some of the more fun ones. It’s a shame the darts and bowling were not included in online, but that would be a first for the series and would probably require quite a bit of work to make happen.

Yakuza 5 Screen Shot 12:21:15, 2.33 PM

Conclusion:
If you have never played a Yakuza game, then Yakuza 5 is definitely one you will not want to miss. I am very grateful to Sega and Sony for bringing the game to the West. It was well worth the wait.

If I were to guess, Yakuza 5 is probably the most complete localization of any Yakuza game on the PS3, with all of the Japanese DLC included in the game. Sadly, Yakuza 5 does not have the Reminisce feature like Yakuza 3 and Yakuza 4.

If you have never played a Yakuza game and need the backstory, you will need to purchase either of the previously-mentioned titles to watch the cutscenes from the previous games going back to the original Yakuza on the PS2.

While it’s not necessary to get the entire backstory in order to enjoy the game, it will enhance your enjoyment of the story in Yakuza 5 which is a big component of this series.

If you’re a Yakuza fan, you have probably pre-ordered the game long ago, but if not, there’s no question as to whether you should get this game. The game packs in just an obscene amount of content that’s well worth the budget price of $40.

Yakuza 5 is simply fantastic, and one of the best Yakuza games to come out this far, I cannot recommend this title enough.

Score:
9.5

* All screenshots used in this review were taken directly from the game using the Elgato Game Capture HD Pro screen capture feature.

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